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Leadership and Physical Intelligence

How’s your Physical Intelligence – and how does this affect your ability to lead others?

I’ve long been interested in the idea of different types of intelligence. The developmental psychologist Howard Gardener described eight “modalities” of intelligence (which he later expanded to include two more), one of which is ‘Bodily-kinesthetic’ intelligence:

Gardner describes this as control of one’s physical movement and the capacity to handle objects skilfully. This also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses. He believes that people who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are generally good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting, and making things.

Click here to see Gardner’s book on Amazon (not an affiliate link).

Whether or not you believe it’s actually an ‘Intelligence’, you’ve probably been around people who are really great at using their bodies. They can hit a tennis ball right by you without seeming to try. Or they can insert a needle into a worried patient’s arm in one easy motion. Or they can make great choices about their own physical health, in a way that sustains them really well.
What other kinds of physical intelligence or smartness have you noticed in yourself or others?

I learned from studying Emotional Intelligence, that you can think about each of your own intelligences as having two components:

First, a ‘Capacity‘. This is like the limit of your own intelligence (whether it’s Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc). For some aspects of each of those intelligences, research suggests that your capacity is fixed – that is, it can’t be increased. What you’re born with may be what you’re stuck with. For other aspects, your capacity can be increased – you can stretch the limit and develop new capacities.

Second, there’s a ‘Utilisation‘. This is how much you use your current capacity. If you want to improve your intelligence, be it Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc, making sure you’re actually already using all that you can use is probably the best place to start.

As I get older and my body stops taking care of itself quite as automatically as it did when I was younger, I’ve become more interested in aspects of physical intelligence. I’m lucky to have a wide spread of ages and occupations and interests amongst my coaching clients, so this is something I often just get a little curious about with them. What do they do to take care of themselves physically? How does their physical being impact on their presence as a leader? Are there links for them (as the evidence seems to suggest) between their physical intelligence and their emotional resilience?


If I bring to mind a dozen or so people I know really well who I’d regard as great leaders, it seems pretty clear to me that they have a good range of several of Gardner’s Intelligence Modalities. They’re smart people and they’ve worked at that. They are good at building relationships with others and they’ve worked at that too. And they all do something to maintain or even increase the utilisation of their own physical capacity.


What’s also interesting for me, is the range of things that these leaders do to utilise their physical being. There’s all the middle-aged cyclists of course. And there are swimmers and runners and tennis players and footballers and hikers and so on. But then there are also dancers and yoga practitioners and tai-chi masters and Nia movers and Five Rhythms people. The range of things that people do to be in great relationship with their bodies is huge.

This is not just about “fitness” – although being fit certainly seems to be part of Physical Intelligence. It’s more than just that though; it’s also about being aligned with and being fully part of our physical being, our bodies, as well as our mental and emotional existence. Without that, it’s hard to be a complete person – which is another important aspect of being a great leader.


It also seems to me that people who have a good relationship with their own bodies are more confident in their dealings with others, are less likely to get hijacked by their own knee-jerk responses and are generally happier and therefore more pleasant to be around.


What’s your view? Does your physical intelligence have anything at all to do with your ability to lead others, or to be successful in your work?

What’s the key? If you believed that physical intelligence IS important to leadership and general success at work and in life, and you wanted to improve your own where should you start?

In my personal experience, it’s all too easy to make this difficult. In the past I’ve managed to fill my own attempts to get physically smarter with all kinds of unhelpful beliefs about how much ‘should’ be possible for me. Or about how I need to keep the shambolic, beginner stages private. Or I’ve even fallen into the ‘no pain, no gain’ trap!

If we reflect back on my earlier points about Capacity and Utilisation, we’re actually talking about learning new stuff here – even if, in this case, it’s our bodies that are doing the learning. And the best learning is messy, playful, gentle and spontaneous.

Is that the way to improved physical intelligence?


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What Time-type Are You?

How to use your brain’s view of time to understand and develop yourself at work – The Ultimate Guide

Try this simple experiment please:

  1. Stand-up.
  2. Now point to where the Future is.
  3. And now point to where the Past is.
  4. Now imagine the past and the future connected by a line.
  5. Does any part of that line run through your body?

If you answered “Yes”, and part of the timeline is inside you, you may be a Time-type A person (see diagram above).

If you answered “No” and no part of the timeline is inside you (see diagram above), you may be a Time-type B person.

The way our brains perceive, sort and use time can be quite different for different people.

As with all of this stuff, there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way of looking at time. Just differences which have varying implications.

Similarly, this way of perceiving and sorting time is just a ‘preference’ – that is, it’s not a fixed and immutable aspect of who you are, it can develop, change and adapt over time and in different circumstances.

I’ve set out below some of the key aspects of each Time-type and given some development suggestions that I typically use with my executive coaching clients.

Time-type A Characteristics

(Time-type A = part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually able to stay very focused in times of crises or when chaos surrounds them
  • Great at “Just do it now” and of getting into action
  • Able to be ‘in the moment’ and enjoy life as it unfolds
  • Good at starting things spontaneously
  • May avoid setting goals or deadlines (or set unrealistic ones)
  • Tend not to plan things step-by-step or to think through the consequences of things
  • Like to keep their options open and may resist commitments or find decisions hard work
  • Unless they’ve worked on this (and most of my clients have) they can tend to be late and will regard even fairly big amounts of lateness as being “roughly on time”.

Time-type B Characteristics

(Time-type B = no part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually great at seeing projects through to completion
  • Tend to plan thoroughly, drawing on their learning from past experiences
  • Often live an orderly, planned life
  • Like to work to realistic timetables and will expect others to set and stick to deadlines
  • Will arrive on time and/or feel very bad about being even slightly late
  • Can see how events are related to each other
  • Find it hard to respond swiftly to a crisis
  • May struggle to focus in chaotic surroundings
  • Often find it difficult to be ‘in the moment’.

Development Suggestions

Development activities for Time-type A people often need to focus on two areas:

First, the way they plan and set goals so that they can realistically deliver something and see it through to completion.

The trick here is to deliberately and visually swing their timeline around so that it’s in front of them, just as it is for a type B person (see diagram above). Any kind of visual planning method, particularly something using ‘swim lanes’ and running from left to right seems to really help. Working backwards from the future (from right to left) having established some clear and visualised goals also helps them be realistic about what can be achieved (whether they are being overly-optimistic OR overly pessimistic).

Second, their ability to take the learning from their past experiences and to fully process the emotions associated with them.

This is a little harder to do without some training, but I like to use methods which draw-on Type-A people’s ability to be in the moment. Take them back to a past experience. Discover what learning was in it. Then remind them how they are now and what new resourcefulness they have now as a result. Then project that forward (“How might you usefully apply that in future?”).

Development activities for Time-type B people often need to focus on these areas:

First, their ability to respond swiftly at work when unexpected stuff happens.

What makes this hard for Type-B people to do is that they’re great at seeing how one thing connects to another and of the consequences. Trying to make sense of all this quickly in a crisis is tough. The trick seems to be to take advantage of their abilities to plan and decide BUT to drastically scale-down their frame of reference. It’s as if, in the diagram above, you had completely chopped-off the future time-line so the range of options they need to consider is now very small. Anything which brings that frame of reference as close in to the ‘now’ as possible will help.

Second, their ability to enjoy themselves in the now.

Simple mindfulness meditation exercises, which focus on the breath, are very useful for this if practised over time.

Similarly, focusing on sensory experiences (what my American trainers would call “getting out of your head Nick”) also help. What can you see, feel, hear and smell right now? What colours are there? What are the textures? What are the different qualities of the sounds you notice?

Hope that helps a little?

Write and tell me or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know which Time-type you are and whether this matches your experiences please.


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Leading with Motivational Source

How do you know when you or your staff do or don’t need recognition? And what tactics should you use?

Think about something that’s important to you in your work.

How do you know when you’ve done a good job at that?

Did you answer something like: “I just know” or “I can feel it in here“; or did you do something like touch your chest, head or stomach to show where in your body you know how you’ve done? If so, chances are that you’re Internally Referenced.

On the other hand, if you answered something like: “The results show that…” or “People tell me…” or you pointed towards some facts or figures, then you are likely Externally Referenced.

When you’re leading other people and want to be able to motivate them, or just need to understand more about your own needs for recognition (or not), then Motivation Source can be a really helpful tool.

For example, if you have a colleague who is strongly Internally Referenced, telling them “You did a great job with X” may mean very little to them and may even seem false or trite. Much better to just ask them to apply their own standards – “How do you reckon you did with X?” and then be prepared to explore that if their internal perception doesn’t match yours.

In these days of very wide and flat organisational structures, where people rarely get to see their boss, I often find myself with clients who are Externally Referenced and are really struggling with a lack of feedback. If you’re leading others who are Externally Referenced they either need to know from you how they’re doing, or they’ll need some regular data to show them.

People who are strongly Internally Referenced and able to keep it in balance can seem very self-confident. Unless they are extremely inflexible and never take into account other people’s points of view – at the far end of that spectrum is sociopathy.

People who are strongly Externally Referenced and able to keep it in balance will seem highly compassionate. Unless they are unable to be flexible and can’t ever make decisions based solely on their own views  – in which case they may become co-dependent.

If you can operate the right amount of choice and flexibility around being Internally Referenced or Externally Referenced in a particular situation, then you’re likely to have both self confidence and the ability to take into account the feelings and points of view of others. Which is not bad if you’re aiming at being a great leader!


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Motivation: Towards Pleasure and Away From Pain

Keep an eye out over the next few days to observe and discover something new about your own motivations and those of the people around you. Here’s how.

Did you know that people tend to operate either a Towards or an Away-From motivation pattern? And that this can change from one context to another?

Motivation Towards tends to show up as positive, goal-seeking reward-based behaviour; focusing on what could go right.
Motivation Away-From tends to focus on avoiding problems and pain; on what might go wrong.

Both are useful in different contexts. When I’m chairing the audit committee in a hospital, it really helps to have people around who can focus on what can go wrong, or on what’s not working. When I’m looking to win a new contract, it really helps that my associates are positive, can-do people.

It used to be thought that these “Meta-programmes” (thought processes that guide and direct the sorting of our perceptions) were fixed and unchangeable. We now know that this isn’t true and that it is possible to choose.

As with almost everything, being aware is what counts. Being aware of what habits we are operating ourselves and of whether other people are in Towards or Away-From mode. Only then can we choose which is actually most helpful for ourselves and for our influence with others.


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